Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts performs “Carousel” in the Browning Mainstage Theater of the…
Webster’s Conservatory – What happens behind the scenes
By Haley Walter
Bonny Green was given a $5,000 budget to design Webster University’s latest play, Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Eventually the money runs out, and sometimes not all the costumes are made and ready to go. For Green, this meant she needed to think outside of the box.
“One of the wedding dresses I made out of shower curtains from my mom’s house,” Green said. “I was out of money and I was like ‘Hey, can I have this?’ and she was like ‘Yeah, I wanted to redecorate anyways.’ They give you a small budget, but you have to make magic.”
Webster’s costume program combines three different areas – costume design, costume production and wig and makeup design. Green is one of three seniors in costume design and one of 28 students in the program.
Conservatory Chair and costume design professor Dottie Marshall Englis said there is not a set way to prepare a student for situations like this, but they will learn by experience how to navigate them.
“There is not a lot of we tell you,” Englis said. “There is a lot of ‘here is the pool, start swimming’. In that situation, it is one of those where she thought ‘I can’t afford the fabric.’ Well, what other things are made of fabric that are cheap? How about a shower curtain? It just takes that one door opening and then they’ve learned in a more organic way.”
Green said this is the way of learning in the Conservatory’s design program – you learn through experience and collaboration.
As freshmen, design students learn the importance of working together by taking classes from a variety of areas in theatre and art including drawing and acting classes.
Green said by taking classes from all areas of theater, designers understand how costumes interact with the set and lighting. Englis said this opportunity creates a well-rounded designer.
Watch a behind the scenes video of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” performed by Webster’s Conservatory.
Video by Olivia Fitzgerald
“Everything we do is so intertwined and collaborative that you need to know the process of everyone else,” Englis said. “Theatre is a team sport.”
As they progress through the program, they begin to branch out into their respectivemajor. Green said as design students move through the major, the important thing becomes repetition and experience. Englis added it is not only about repetition in design, but by the constant exposure to design and theatre.
“It is not about your hand, it is about your eye,” Englis said. “The more visual stimulus and things you take along the way and the more theatre you look at and the more things you see, it gives you a better idea of what is possible.”
Between the repetition, drawing of designs, stitching and fittings, Englis said she reminds her students costume design is a patient, unique and tough art. But the picture at the end is the reward both Green and Englis strive for.
“Costume design is like a mosaic, where you have all these little stones and then you step back and you have a picture,” Englis said. “You have the performers, the hair, the shoes, the jewelry, their clothing, underwear, how many times they are changing, and those are all your little stones. Then, when you get them on stage and you step back and see the mosaic. There is a picture out of the little bits.”
By Andrew McMunn
On the stage sits what looks like the ruins of a past civilization. The weatherworn stones are covered in bright green foliage. A stone archway provides an opening for shelter under the crumbled structure for actors to enter and exit the stage, while the roof proves is strong enough for them to climb atop.
These details make up the Forest of Arden, the setting of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” a comedy about a couple escaping into the woods to find forbidden love.
Lighting design major Kylee Loera designed the play’s elaborate set based on the artwork of Eyvind Earle, an artist best known for his art in the original “Sleeping Beauty.”
“We wanted something that was a little bit more whimsical and something that felt like a storybook in a way,” Loera said.
Loera said she and the director began discussing design aspects for the set of “As You Like It” months in advance. One of the main things she had to consider was the size of the cast, which was around 20 people.
“It was really important for me that they had lots of places to physically hide, and be, and run around each other,” Loera said.
Loera said the materials used to build the set are also important. The set must have a practical design as well as an aesthetic one. The set’s foundation was made with styrofoam; the trees, metal tubes painted green. Camouflage netting and leafy garlands added texture to the trees while Christmas lights created a soft, glowing atmosphere.
Loera said designing things for theatre sometimes requires a lot of resourcefulness as well as creativity. One scene in the play involves one of the lovers running through the forest posting letters to his love on all of the trees, something Loera said required a bit of thinking outside the box.
“That’s always a scene that’s kind of difficult because depending on what you are using as trees, you have to find a way to attach the letters and stuff,” Loera said. “So I was like ‘well, we have metal trees, so why don’t we just use magnets?’”
All of these considerations and more come together to form the literal foundations of big theatrical productions.